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A glance in the rearview mirror at the other guy | Chuck's World


Last updated 8/26/2021 at 9:56am

I knew a man briefly, once, so long ago now that I have a vague idea of maybe his age, possibly his height. I can’t imagine his name or anything else, except that I knew him for a short time.

He was a nice person to know slightly, and temporarily. Very intelligent, with a dry sense of humor, quite a bit of it self-deprecating, which struck me as just part of his personality but perhaps also a bit situational.

He was embarrassed, you see. He’d been taking a long and lonely road trip, and he popped open a can of beer for the ride. There were some more pops, apparently, enough to make a state trooper curious and that was the story.

My buddy got a DUI, his first, and he was graciously given a chance at diversion.

You probably know about this. In lieu of a prison sentence, a first-time offender such as this man might be offered a chance to enter a chemical dependency program, and avoid both incarceration and putting himself and everyone else on the road at risk ever again.

To be honest, I can be a little irrational when it comes to people drinking and driving. I tend to be an absolutist.

For example, I think if you hurt another person while driving under the influence, no matter how minor an incident, regardless of the other legal consequences, I think you should lose your privilege to drive. Forever. Good thing I don’t make the rules.

I have no idea what the statistics show about diversion, although I do believe in second chances, and everyone makes mistakes. Driving under the influence is a major one, but sometimes that arrest is what it takes to make one recognize a pretty obvious rock bottom.

Not this guy, though. He just figured he was unlucky. Again, this was a good guy, a family man, devoted father, a remarkably intelligent, calm, kind person, and he made a bad choice.

I think he sort of resented having to sit through a program he didn’t believe was necessary, but he mostly stayed cheerful and stuck it out, for maybe a couple of weeks.

Which is when this story took an interesting twist, if not the one you might be expecting.

After a couple of weeks of listening to others, sitting in lecture halls, and reading a lot of material, this man realized that if he weren’t actually an alcoholic, he’d been doing such a good impression of one the distinction was sort of moot.

In my experience, denial is less of a factor in alcoholism than many laypersons seem to believe. At some point, the damage becomes hard to ignore. Self-delusion seems to lean toward minimizing more than outright deception, but this is just my experience.

At any rate, this was a true case of denial, I guess, although it was fun to watch his surprise and eventually relief (after some embarrassment) that he had been ignoring a problem for years that, fortunately for all concerned, he was in exactly the right place to start fixing.

His mood improved noticeably, and even though I haven’t seen him in many years, and honestly couldn’t come up with his name on a bet, I have a good feeling about the rest of his life.

He made a serious error in judgment, and the consequences could have been much, much worse, but it’s the kind of story that makes me want to pretend to believe in guardian angels, showing up like in those Christmas movies to nudge a good person into the right path.

I’m reminded of this story because I know a few people hitting the road this summer in motor homes, and I’m hoping things don’t get too casual out there.

And because it’s that time of year, when I’m supposed to remind everyone that there’s a solution.

So, you know, to be official. My name is Chuck. I’m an alcoholic.

I haven’t had a drink in 15 years. I’m fine. My story is boring, and I know because I tell it to myself every morning, just a habit.

I don’t really feel an obligation to mention this, at this anniversary of sorts, but a lot of people with some sort of public forum do. Sometimes I do, sometimes I forget.

I have absolutely no advice to give, really, and it’s been so long I doubt I remember enough to be helpful, but I help as I can because that’s what people did for me.

If nothing else, though, I can tell you that by the end I was consuming what should have easily been a lethal dose of alcohol every day, so while I didn’t commit crimes or lose jobs or punch people, it was pretty bad.

And it’s better now. See? That’s what I can tell you.

Sobriety didn’t solve all my problems but it kept me alive, and that meant possibility and that meant hope, and hope gets me out of bed in the mornings.

I like getting out of bed, or most days, so I’m sticking with hope, even as the world burns and vaccine doses expire. Because that guy’s story I just told you is all about hope, and so is my story.

It’s ancient history and not exciting, but I was pretty sure I was going to die and I didn’t, and I think quite a bit about guardian angels, sometimes.


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